A Clockwork Orange

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Free Will vs. the “Clockwork Orange” Theme Analysis

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The title of the novel is an allusion to its central ethical dilemma. The phrase “A Clockwork Orange” appears within the book as the name of F. Alexander’s polemic against Reclamation Treatment, the state-sponsored aversion therapy that Alex undergoes. Reclamation Treatment renders criminals unable to think about violence without experiencing extreme pain themselves, thus removing a significant amount of their free will. In this way, the treatment turns individuals into “clockwork oranges”—nadsat speak for “clockwork men.” The prison chaplain is particularly attuned to the moral quandary inherent in this treatment: “What does God want?” he muses, worried of the consequences of Alex’s therapy. “Does God want woodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some ways better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?”

The complexity of this problem is best illustrated by the predicament of the activist F. Alexander, who attempts to use Alex as the poster child of his campaign against Reclamation Therapy. On one hand, F. Alexander is morally opposed to stripping criminals of free will. However, the activist later recognizes Alex as the perpetrator of the brutal, lethal rape of his wife—a devastating tragedy that he feels the overwhelming need to avenge. For F. Alexander to maintain his ethical stance, he would need to advocate for restoring Alex’s ability to commit further, equally heinous crimes. This position is, unsurprisingly, impossible for the activist to support, and he is locked away after making threats on Alex’s life. Readers are left to resolve the question on their own: is it just to reintroduce a criminal to society by removing the free will that impelled him to act abhorrently? Or is it more moral to lock him in prison, while he remains unrepentantly and ineradicably sadistic—but mentally unfettered?

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Free Will vs. the “Clockwork Orange” Quotes in A Clockwork Orange

Below you will find the important quotes in A Clockwork Orange related to the theme of Free Will vs. the “Clockwork Orange”.
Part 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

Himself has grave doubts about it. I must confess I share those doubts. The question is whether such a technique can really make a man good. Goodness comes from within, 6655321. Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.

Related Characters: The Prison Chaplain (speaker), Alex
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alex is preparing to volunteer for a complicated treatment called the Ludovico technique. Such a technique can condition a human being to avoid bad behavior of any kind--rape, violence, etc. Alex's Chaplain (the "charlie," as Alex calls him, an allusion to Charlie Chaplin) points out that the Ludovico technique only appears to make its subjects good. In reality, true goodness of the soul (the kind the Chaplain is concerned with) can never be the product of conditioning: one can only choose to be good or bad, voluntarily.

The Chaplain's words illustrate the tension between control and freedom in the second part of the novel. Scientific conditioning can foster the appearance of perfect morality, yet it does so by tyrannizing the spirit, forcing its subject to behave a certain way against their will.


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Part 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

Common criminals like this unsavoury crowd…can best be dealt with on a purely curative basis. Kill the criminal reflex, that’s all. Full implementation in a year’s time. Punishment means nothing to them, you can see that. They enjoy their so-called punishment. They start murdering each other.

Related Characters: The Minister of the Interior (speaker), Alex
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alex is introduced to the Minister of the Interior, a government official who gives the go-ahead to experiment with violent prisoners like Alex. The Minister gives a quick explanation of the problem, as he sees it. The Minister's job is to reduce crime. But the traditional methods of reducing crime—sending criminals to jail—don't really work for everyone. There are some, like Alex, who will never be rehabilitated, because they genuinely enjoy violence; moreover, they seem to genuinely enjoy being sent to jail, since jail is just another opportunity for violence. As we'll see, the Minister's solution to the problem will be to send Alex and his peers to be conditioned with the Ludovico technique, thus removing their very freedom to choose and enjoy criminal behaviors.

Part 2, Chapter 3 Quotes

It may not be nice to be good, little 6655321. It may be horrible to be good. And when I say that to you I realize how self-contradictory that sounds. I know I shall have many sleepless nights about this. What does God want? Does God want woodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some ways better than a man who has the good imposed upon him…You are passing now to a region where you will be beyond the reach of the power of prayer. A terrible terrible thing to consider. And yet, in a sense, in choosing to be deprive of the ability to make an ethical choice, you have in a sense really chosen the good.

Related Characters: The Prison Chaplain (speaker), Alex
Related Symbols: Christianity
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important passage, Alex--about to begin scientific treatment that will render him unable to be violent or criminal--meets with the Prison Chaplain once more. The Chaplain warns Alex that he won't enjoy his treatment at all. The Chaplain's other reasons for discouraging Alex from the Ludovico technique are complicated and subtle. As the Chaplain sees it, conditioning violates man's most sacred gift: the gift of free will. God has created human beings with the potential to be wicked: if God wanted, he could have forced men to be good, but he didn't. With the Ludovico technique, the Chaplain believes, human beings are essentially taking the "short cut" that God himself did not take: they're forcing each other to obey the law, at the cost of free will.

In the end, the Chaplain doesn't seem to have a clear-cut answer, even for himself. He believes that free will--i.e., the rights of the individual--is crucial to one's humanity (and the state of one's soul in a Christian worldview), but he also recognizes that society as a whole would benefit from fewer criminals. Furthermore, the Chaplain recognizes that Alex himself has chosen to be robbed of choice--so in a sense even the Ludovico technique requires free will and a decision to want to be good.

Part 2, Chapter 6 Quotes

Stop, you grahzny disgusting sods. It’s a sin, that’s what it is, a filthy unforgivable sin, you bratchnies!... Using Ludwig van like that. He did no harm to anyone. Beethoven just wrote music.

Related Characters: Alex (speaker)
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Alex is forced to watch one more film: footage of Nazi war crimes, accompanied by the music of Beethoven. Alex, who previously loved classical music, is horrified by the use of his favorite composer for such a horrible film. He cries out that it is a "sin" for the scientists to use Beethoven as a part of his conditioning.

After a hundred pages of bullying, robbing, raping, and killing, Alex is--out of nowhere--portrayed as the voice of morality, the most "moral" person in the room. Notice how Alex uses words like "sin" and "unforgivable" to criticize the doctors for their sadism. Naturally, it's hard to take Alex totally seriously (he seems more upset about the bastardization of music itself than about the specific crimes he's watching). And yet Alex has a point: the scientists who are subjecting Alex to the torture of the Ludovico technique are in some ways less moral and "human" (because they lack appreciation for music and beauty) than Alex himself. Unlikely as it might be, Burgess portrays Alex as both the victim and the moral authority of the chapter.

And what, brothers, I had to escape into sleep from then was the horrible and wrong feeling that it was better to get the hit than give it. If that veck had stayed I might even have like presented the other cheek.

Related Characters: Alex (speaker)
Related Symbols: Christianity
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

Alex has just finished his scientific conditioning, and to test whether the conditioning has worked, a man hits Alex in the face. Instead of fighting back, as Alex was once apt to do, Alex cowers on the floor--he wants to defend himself, but at the same time he feels a deep sense of pain and disgust, the product of his conditioning.

The passage includes a sly allusion to a famous Biblical verse, in which Jesus Christ urges his followers to "turn the other cheek" if an enemy hits them. Where Christ wanted his followers to choose to be righteous pacifists, Alex has no real choice but to submit to his enemies' authority. Alex is behaving morally, but he's not a moral agent: he's just a puppet, pushed and prodded into submission by the Ludovico technique he's just completed.

Part 2, Chapter 7 Quotes

He has no real choice, has he? Self-interest, fear of physical pain, drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.

Related Characters: The Prison Chaplain (speaker), Alex
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Prison Chaplain stands up on behalf of Alex, now conditioned to avoid any violence or sexuality whatsoever. Alex has been displayed before an audience of important government officials, all of whom are delighted with Alex's clear inability to commit a crime of any kind. The only person who criticizes Alex's conditioning is the Chaplain, who objects that Alex has surrendered his free will, and thus his humanity.

The Chaplain is perhaps the only character in the novel who is presented in an entirely positive light. He doesn't approve of Alex's crimes, but he's also wise and generous enough to defend Alex's rights as a human being, and above all, Alex's right to make his own choice--in a sense, Alex's right to choose to commit crimes and do evil. One could say that the Chaplain is the only defender of human freedom in the audience--everyone else believes that the ends justify the means (i.e., Alex's inability to commit any kind of crime justifies the sacrifice of his free will and his transformation into a "clockwork orange").

He will be your true Christian…ready to turn the other cheek, ready to be crucified rather than crucify, sick to the very heart at the thought even of killing a fly.

Related Characters: Dr. Brodsky (speaker), Alex
Related Symbols: Christianity
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

In response to the Prison Chaplain's objection that Alex's scientific conditioning has rendered him incapable of making the most basic free decisions, Dr. Brodsky--one of the men responsible for organizing and supervising Alex's treatment--offers a spirited defense. Brodsky, recognizing that the Chaplain is attacking the Ludovico treatment from a Christian standpoint, insists that Alex has become the perfect Christian. Brodsky argues that Alex will be selfless and moral at all times--he'll "turn the other cheek," as Christ urged his followers to do.

Brodsky's words are ironic and contradictory on many different levels. As we know very well, Alex's instinct to "turn the other cheek" is a bastardization of Christianity. Alex doesn't choose to be selfless, as Christ advocated; rather, he's forced to behave morally by a physical sense of disgust and pain. In a broader sense, then, Alex's inability to exercise free will contradicts the strong emphasis on individual freedom that has always been a cornerstone of the Christian faith (in most denominations). Finally, it's important to remember Dr. Brodsky's sadistic attitude during Alex's treatment--he enjoyed causing Alex pain, and even seemed to enjoy watching some of the films that caused Alex disgust. Brodsky is hardly a "true Christian," making his sanctimonious speech particularly hard to swallow.

Part 3, Chapter 4 Quotes

You’ve sinned, I suppose, but your punishment has been out of all proportion. They have turned you into something other than a human being. You have no power of choice any longer. You are committed to socially acceptable acts, a little machine capable only of good. And I see that clearly—that business about the marginal conditionings. Music and the sexual act, literature and art, all must be a source now not of pleasure but of pain.

Related Characters: F. Alexander (speaker), Alex
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alex ends up back in the house that he broke into in the first part of the novel. The house's owner, F. Alexander, recognizes that Alex must have been a dangerous criminal, but doesn't realize that Alex was the very man who raped and (unknowingly) murdered his wife.

Ironically, F. Alexander acts as Alex's protector, delivering a long speech in which he criticizes the government for depriving Alex of his free will--something far more precious than a lower crime rate. Alexander, an artist, is especially moved that Alex has been conditioned to despise music of all kinds--as Alexander sees it, Alex's newfound hatred of music is proof of the barbarism of his scientific conditioning. The question now becomes: what will Alexander do when he discovers that Alex was the man who killed his wife? In other words, does Alexander really value Alex's free will more highly than Alex's ability to commit crimes, when such crimes become intimately personal to Alexander's experience?

Part 3, Chapter 5 Quotes

When I woke up I could hear slooshy music coming out of the wall, real gromky, and it was that that had dragged me out of my bit of like sleep. It was a symphony that I knew real horrorshow but had not slooshied for many a year, namely the Symphony Number Three of the Danish veck Otto Skadelig, a very gromky and violent piece, especially in the first movement, which was what was playing now. I slooshied for two seconds in like interest and joy, but then it all came over me, the start of the pain and the sickness, and I began to groan deep down in my keeshkas. And then there I was, me who had loved music so much, crawling off the bed and going oh oh oh to myself and then bang bang banging on the wall creching: “Stop, stop it, turn it off!”

Related Characters: Alex (speaker)
Page Number: 186-187
Explanation and Analysis:

It's now clear that F. Alexander suspects that Alex was the man responsible for killing F. Alexander's wife. (F. Alexander recognizes Alex's nadsat slang, and, it's implied, he finally realizes that Alex knew Dim, one of the other droogs responsible for Alexander's wife's death). Previously, F. Alexander was willing to treat Alex as a respected guest--he pitied Alex for his conditioning. F. Alexander always knew that Alex was a dangerous criminal, but now that F. Alexander knows that Alex murdered his wife, he's determined to get his revenge. Sadistically, Alexander plays music, knowing that Alex now responds to all music with nausea and intense pain.

The scene is important because it suggests the interplay between personal and abstract motives. F. Alexander had piously claimed that free will is more valuable than a low crime rate, and therefore, Alex's conditioning is "immoral." But now that F. Alexander seems to know the full truth about Alex, he can't be so pure--in short, his personal motives override his abstract commitment to justice. At the same time, F. Alexander finds a clever way to kill two birds with one stone--he tortures Alex in an especially sadistic way, thus arranging for Alex to commit suicide. In this way, F. Alexander will avenge his wife's rape and murder (personal motive) while also turning Alex into propaganda against the government (abstract motive).

Part 3, Chapter 6 Quotes

Oh it was gorgeosity and yumyumyum. When it came to the Scherzo I could viddy myself very clear running and running on like very light and mysterious nogas, carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my cut-throat britva. And there was the slow movement and the lovely last singing movement still to come. I was cured all right.

Related Characters: Alex (speaker)
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final sentences of this chapter, Alex recovers from his conditioning. He's no longer afraid of classical music, rape, or violence--in short, he's returned to the state of mind he was in before being sent to prison. As Alex rejoices in his liberation from the Ludovico technique, he seems to pick up right where he left off: with thoughts of rape and murder, backed up with an ecstatic experience of beautiful classical music.

While Burgess criticizes the tyrannical government that strips Alex of his free will, that doesn't mean that Alex is automatically the hero of the book. On the contrary, Alex is just as brutal and sadistic as the government that imprisons him--the only difference is that the government is big and powerful, while Alex is one man. There is, in short, no real morality in Alex's society: the only law is that the strong will dominate the weak. Alex beats up drunk old men; later, the state, the police officers, and F. Alexander hurt Alex; and finally, when he is cured of his conditioning, Alex prepares to get back to beating up drunk old men.

(Notice that Burgess never actually shows Alex returning to his old ways; only preparing to return to them. In the final chapter of the book--included in the British edition only--Burgess will show Alex turning a new leaf altogether.)